Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The TRUTH about Homemade Sunscreen

About a month ago I decided to try out homemade sunscreen - initially just for the fun of it. I did my research - a lot of research. Which, overwhelmingly supported my reasoning for buying more crap stuff to add to my ever-growing craft stash of things I will never use up. You know how that goes.

I read up on both sides of the debate (store bought vs. homemade) and everywhere in between. I'll let you do your own research, because my sources are likely bias, but I'll try to touch on the aspects of each that I found that are important to me.

With the info I found, and after putting the theories to the test by making and using both a regular and waterproof sunscreen, I came to this conclusion:

Homemade sunscreen is best. Period. 

It's effective, it's all-natural, all-organic and completely safe. *But* when I need something waterproof - I'll take the chemical can. I can have my kids covered in seconds with a spray bottle of store-bought sunscreen, when the homemade waterproof sunblock takes me upwards of 10 minutes to apply. The convenience of the time and sanity saved is worth it to me.

Let me tell you why with a good old-fashion pro/con list...

Store-Bought Sunscreen
+ Waterproof
+ Quick to apply
+ High SPF (up to 60+)
+ Does not whiten skin
- Hormone-altering chemicals

Homemade Waterproof Sunblock (bar form)
+ Waterproof
+ All-natural and organic
+/- Lower SPF (20-30)
- Takes a long time to apply (the beeswax which makes the sunblock waterproof takes time to spread)
- Whitens skin slightly

Homemade Sunblock (liquid form, not-waterproof)
+ All-natural & organic
+ Quick to apply
+/- Lower SPF (20-30)
- Whitens skin slightly

First, I should probably let you know that I opt for organic and all-natural when I can, but I also drink 3-4 (read: 6+) cans of Diet Coke everyday. (Gotta get you 8 glasses, right?)

If I wanted to cut chemicals, preservatives, or anything artificial out of my lifestyle - sunscreen is way down the list. Baby steps, people.

Also - it's important to know that my babies have their daddy's Armenian skin. They tan beautifully. If I had pasty babies like myself, I would be more hesitant to use the homemade sunscreen because of its lower SPF.

Store Bought Sunscreen

The one thing that turns me off from store-bought sunscreen is that it contains ingredients that literally alter the chemicals in your skin (also affecting your hormone levels) to make your skin itself become sun-resistant. That's why so many sunscreens you buy in a bottle are waterproof - once they have done their job, they are good to go - even if the carrier cream rinses off. Many believe that more people are actually getting cancer from the chemicals in sunscreen than from the sun itself, and that more of us are actually Vitamin D deficient than overexposed.

While I can't vouch for the cancer proposition - I do believe that we were meant to have a little sun on us. Which, is why the low SPF in the homemade sunscreens are not a problem for me.

(PS - Did you know that an SPF 40 is not equivalent to 2x the strength of an SPF 20? A SPF 20 blocks about 94% of UVB rays, a 40 blocks around 98%)

The one thing that is great about store-bought sunscreen is that you can purchase so many varieties now in an aerosal can and have your baby covered in seconds.

Homemade Sunblock

I love that with the homemade sunscreen, I know exactly what is going into my product. I buy my ingredients organic and make it myself. It is made of an all-natural combination that personally - I have found to be perfectly effective. In waterproof sunblock, I use all-organic coconut oil, shea butter, beeswax, zinc oxide (a natural mineral) and tea tree oil. That's it.

The sunblock is just that - it blocks the sun, forming a barrier ON TOP of the skin to protect it. It does not alter any chemical or hormone in the body and is completely, 100% safe.

Under a microscope, many argue that the particles of an unprocessed zinc-oxide based sunblock do not distribute perfectly. But, from personal use, I have found it to be very effective. Which, personally, tells me more than a microscope could.

Through first-hand use, I have found that the homemade sunblock in both bar and lotion form really do their job. But, you should also know that homemade sunblock does have a lower SPF than what you would probably buy in the store. Personally, I don't mind a healthy dose of sun and since my girls do not burn easily, it has worked perfectly for us.

One drawbacks of both the homemade lotion and bars is that it leaves your skin looking a little white. For the kids, this isn't even a problem for me - if anything, it's actually a benefit. I know where the sunscreen has been applied. And, it's not even that noticeable, really - just a slight difference only Mom will notice.

The only thing that is a deal-breaker for me is with the homemade waterproof sunblock. It takes much longer to apply. I have found it easiest to break off a little chuck of the bar and massage it in my hand until it has softened. Once soft, it smooths out onto the skin pretty easily - but it does take a while to rub in all the way.

It would probably take me about 10 minutes to cover my kids head-to-toe, which neither me or my girls have patience for - which is why I go for store-bought at the pool.

The regular, lotion sunblock applies just like any other lotion-based sunscreen. Rub it in, and you are set. You get all of the benefits of the chemical-free, all-natural sunscreen and don't have to put in too much elbow grease or bribery to get it on the kids.

There is so much information out there that will sway you on either side of the sunscreen debate. Decide what is best for you and your family - it may be completely different than what is best for mine.

I went a little overboard in making the waterproof sunscreen bars - that probably won't get all used up this summer. But, I have found them great for calming itchy bug bites and have also been using them as chapstick - they work great!

If you are interested in making your own homemade sunblock, here are the recipes I used to make my own:

Homemade Sunblock - Waterproof Bars (~20 SPF)
1.5 oz beeswax
1.5 oz shea butter
1.5 oz coconut oil
1 oz zinc oxide
~10 drops of tea tree oil

1. Melt the beeswax, shea butter and coconut oil together. (I put all of the ingredients in a mason jar, and set it in boiling water until melted).
2. Remove from heat and stir in zinc oxide. Pour into molds. (I used empty deodorant containers and ice cube trays.)
3. Let cool completely. Remove from molds - refrigerate until use.

Homemade Sunblock - Lotion (~20 SPF)
2 oz shea butter
2 oz coconut oil
1 oz zinc oxide
~8 drops of tea tree oil

1. Melt the shea butter and coconut oil together. (I put all of the ingredients in a mason jar, and set it in boiling water until melted).
2. Remove from heat and stir in zinc oxide. Pour into container.
3. Let cool completely before use. Store at room temperature.


  1. I'd never even considered that this is something I could make, thanks for sharing. Shame you cannot make a kids high factor one, I'm much more concerned about the chemicals on my son's skin than I am my own. Great idea

  2. so a giveaway of homemade waterproof bars are in order? ;)

  3. Thank you SOOO much for researching this and sharing with us! I have been wondering about this very thing, and your recipes look so doable!

  4. Did you use tea tree oil to Prevent acne breakouts?

  5. Thank you for sharing this information. I'm so fed up with all the nasties in store bought sunscreen.

  6. Zinc oxide is not organic - but thank you for the informative post otherwise!

  7. 6+ cans of diet coke every day?? Wow.

  8. I've been considering making homemade sunscreen. We're all very pale here and most months of the year, it's cloudy. Sunny weather, especially at the beach, I definitely use sunscreen. I've had too many bad burns to want to do that again. If I'm just going out for a walk in the sun, I typically don't bother, since you're less likely to get burnt if you're moving around. Though when it warms up later this year, I may use it more on my daughter when we go out, since she's just a baby and her skin will be more sensitive to the sun. I'll probably give the homemade stuff a try when we're out of what we have on hand right now.

  9. I know this post is older, but I have a question. My daughter broke out in a rash after using coconut oil as a lotion one time. Is there something else I could use in its place that would work just the same?

    1. You could try doubling up on the shea butter. Also, you could try joboba oil, sesame oil, or sunflower oil. All of those also provide some natural sun protection. I've not yet tried this but have done a lot of research. I would definitely try it out on myself before putting it on the kiddos. Good luck! I hope this helps.

  10. Thoughts on adding Carrot Seed Oil? It's suppose to have a higher SPF.

  11. For a higher SPF just add more zinc oxide!

  12. I was weary of homemade sunscreen just because when they state zinc dioxide is in sunscreen it is in PERCENTAGES… not just listed as an ingredient its an (active) ingredient in most store bought sunscreens. This made me want to do a little more research…and start with Zinc Oxide the element itself. It can be used to make cement as well, who knew! But I found that the components are dangerous when exposed to air in its powder form and that most chemists take PROTECTIVE MEASURES with it. Livestrong supported this in their blog about making homemade sunscreen as well.

    Although I am still weary of using an active ingredient usually handled by chemist (when I only got as far as OrgoChem) I may give it a try just with a homemade lotion I've already made.

    1. I understand your concern about the zinc because I had read the same thing, but I am nuts about DIY'ing and gave it a go anyway. The instruction I followed for my sunblock actually called for a mask so you don't breathe any zinc in while pouring it into the oils/butters. I've found contractors masks to work well and if you make a good size batch you only end up having to deal with the zinc once a year.

  13. I too have made my own sunscreen (and ruined my food processor in the mix since I didn't have the recommended immersion blender to whip my concoction) and I was so pleased with it we used almost the whole batch. It is more of a pain to apply, but it worked SO well. My son never burns, so there was no surprise there, but my daughter has a slightly different skin tone and I worried about her. I had several burns as a kid despite liberal and frequent applications of sunscreen and so I wanted to spare her little toddler shoulders. She never burned either. Three to four hour sessions at our public pool two-four times a week and the girl never burned. Both my kids skill got great tans, but no burns. The beeswax really does help seal the sunblock on too. I could easily tell that it was still on there even with kids rubbing up against me as they climbed and hung all over me and several trips down the slide. I will be making this again, but I do need a different way to whip it up...or maybe I should try your bar recipe.

  14. Where do you buy zinc?

  15. Tea Tree Oil is maybe a bit concerning with young children because it's weakly estrogenic. But this concern is not taken as a big deal by most and probable is not. You may want to look into it a bit though. It's a pretty cool project though I will have to try it next time I got to the beach or something.

  16. Thank you for sharing this post as well as the added discussions for substitutes . I am always looking for a healthier alternative ;)



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